What’s a rational American foreign policy?
Aijaz Ahmad: The United States economy is stagnant and faces the possibility of a real Depression. Its currency has lost a quarter of its value on global markets in three years. No country in the entire history of humankind has ever owed as much money to foreigners as the US does today, and this debt rises by about a billion dollars a day. Its military expenditures are higher than those of the next twenty countries combined. It’s time to question basic assumptions about US foreign policy.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: Welcome to the start of a series of interviews we’re doing with noted journalists, scholars, and foreign policy analysts, asking the question: what would be a rational foreign policy for the United States? One could debate whether such a thing is even possible, but as a new president will be occupying the White House soon, we thought we’d offer some unsolicited advice. Our first interview is with Aijaz Ahmad, a noted scholar, journalist, and our own senior news analyst. Welcome, Aijaz.
AIJAZ AHMAD, SENIOR NEWS ANALYST, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: Thank you very much.
JAY: To kick off the conversation, I’d actually like to read something you wrote recently for our Web site.
AHMAD: That’s very kind of you.
JAY: The United States economy is stagnant and faces the possibility of a real Depression. Its currency has lost a quarter of its value on global markets in three years. No country in the entire history of humankind has ever owed as much money to foreigners as the US does today, and this debt rises by about a billion dollars a day. Its military expenditures are higher than those of the next twenty countries combined. Aijaz, clearly you think it’s time to question assumptions. Where do you think we should start?
AHMAD: I think the most basic assumption of US foreign policy which has prevailed among Democratic and Republican administrations alike is that the United States is and must remain the world’s most powerful preeminent country. This applies even to the allies, such as the EU or Japan or something, that the US superiority must be maintained even over them.
JAY: I think it’s even actually been stated in US foreign policy documents that there needs to be one superpower in the world, and action should even be taken to stop the emergence of any other superpower.
AHMAD: Absolutely. It is in the official documents and it is in the writings of the most influential people who have been involved in foreign policy formulation. It’s as true of the neoconservatives as of Brzezinski, for example. It is an absolutely consensual position.
JAY: Our rubric of our conversation was a rational policy. So your suggesting that there be a single-superpower-dominated world is irrational. Well, what would be rational? What would be a good starting point for a principle for US foreign policy?
AHMAD: The starting point for a rational foreign policy should be that the United States is one sovereign country among many others and has no imperial preemptive right to intervene in the affairs of other nations any more than other nations have the right to intervene.
JAY: So no more chanting we’re number one.
AHMAD: No more chanting we are number one. And this I think has to be done very methodically from top down, because years and years and decades of chanting this has sort of seared this notion into the souls of a lot of Americans that this is how it is and this is how it must be.
JAY: It’s very difficult. I grew up both in Canada and the United States, and the idea that as Americans we are the best in the world goes to sort of the core of a national psychology.
AHMAD: What’s very interesting is that there is a tie between "we are the best" and "we are the most powerful." And because we are the best, we have the right to intervene in the affairs of other nations to make them act according to our priorities and our principles, and in doing so we have the right to use the power that we have, so that there is a kind of a peculiar kind of Protestant tie here between power and virtue.
JAY: One of the most interesting or radical proposals of any of the candidates running for president came from Ron Paul, who suggested the closing of US bases around the world and bringing all the troops home—not just from Iraq. Is that part of a rational foreign policy? What do you make of such a proposal?
AHMAD: Well, what’s really interesting is that the United States alone has roughly 1,000 bases all around the world. It is, of course, the preeminent economic power. The next most eminent economic power, Germany, Japan, the emerging powers China and India, have no foreign bases whatsoever. There is no relevance of these foreign bases; there is no connection between these foreign bases and the US imperatives for wealth and prosperity.
JAY: Well, the stated reason for the bases is the role that’s been described of the United States since World War II of defending democracy around the world, the bulwark against the Soviet Union, the bulwark now against terrorism, that without these bases the world will simply be overrun, in this grand battle between good and evil, by, obviously, evil.
AHMAD: You see, there was some sort of systemic justification for it that one could at least think about, whether or not one agreed [with] that position, so long as the Soviet Union was there, so long as the world was divided between two blocs, one led by the United States, one led by the Soviet Union. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, there is no such imperative left. There is no grand superpower out there against which you have to defend yourself and your allies. You aren’t the only superpower left.
JAY: So, then, what’s the point of the bases now, then?
AHMAD: Well, that is part of the argument, that there is no point in the bases whatsoever. They serve no useful purpose. What has happened since then, Paul, very interestingly, are two things. One is that before the collapse of the Soviet Union, President Carter actually enunciated what has come to be known as the Carter Doctrine, in which the defense of oil was elevated to a very high national security imperative, the defense of which needed to be done militarily. He created what was then called the rapid deployment force, which then, under President Reagan, was raised to the level of CENTCOM, the Central Command, which is one of the five commands into which the US military is divided. The expressed task of CENTCOM is to defend the US security interests in the Middle East, primarily oil, and that is a command that is now the most powerful. It is the command that has the right to draw upon the resources of all other commands in order to defend those interests in the Middle East. Now, what is very interesting here is that with all of this military paraphernalia, the two wars that the United States has launched in the first quarter of the 21st century in Iraq and Afghanistan had no clear objectives, are turning out to be unwinnable. When you launch, when you use those military bases for militarily defending your interests in the Middle East, oil was selling at $30 a barrel. Now it is selling at $150 a barrel.
JAY: Which might be good for the oil companies, but doesn’t do much for the rest of the US economy.
AHMAD: Absolutely. It’s absolutely very good for the oil corporations. It is a disaster for US economy, and not economy as a whole in the abstract, but on daily lives of ordinary people. The same thing has happened with the US currency. The dollar has lost about a quarter of its value since 2003, since the invasion of Iraq, which means that the products of the world have become much more expensive for Americans, and basic necessities such as heating oil and things like that, you know, at the petrol pump.
JAY: In the next segment of our interview, let’s discuss further what it would mean for the United States to be an equal country amongst sovereign nations. Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Aijaz Ahmad.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.